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Category: Personal Recollections of Pardee Butler
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After crossing the Missouri River I visited some of the principal settlements in the Territory, such as Atchison, Leaven worth, Lawrence and Topeka. Lawrence, Topeka and Manhattan were settlements made by men from free States, and with an eye single to making Kansas a free State. There was no town located on the Missouri River, and no settlement made in the counties bordering on the Missouri River, that were properly free State settlements. I thought this was a mistake. These counties had by far the largest population, and as these counties would go, the Territory would go; and I thought that no considerations of personal danger ought to hinder, that these counties should have respectable settlements of avowed Free State men among them.

 

What is now the city of Atchison was then a small village that was being built among--the cottonwood trees on the banks of the Missouri River, about twenty miles below St. Joseph, and the same distance above Fort Leavenworth. It had been named after the notable David R. Atchison, who had been a Senator from Missouri, and acting Vice-President of the United States. D. R. Atchison and Gen. B. F. Stringfellow had at this time won a national notoriety in this struggle now going on in Kansas; and both were leading members in the Atchison town company. Dr. Stringfellow was deputed to act as editor-in-chief of the _Squatter Sovereign_, a paper at that time started in Atchison; but the editor was Robert S. Kelly. Bob Kelly, as he was popularly called, was a born leader among such a population as at that time filled Western Missouri. The towns along the Missouri River were the outfitting points for that immense overland freighting business, that was at that time carried on across the western plains, to Santa Fe in Mexico and to Salt Lake, Oregon and California; and here congregated a multitude of that wild, lawless, law-defying and law-breaking mob of men, that accompanied these expeditions, and were the habitues of these western plains, or were among the gold seekers of California.

Bob Kelly was left an orphan at an early age, and was from his youth surrounded with such a population. In person he was handsome as an Apollo, broad-shouldered and muscular, with fair complexion and blue eyes, and was the natural chief of the dangerous men that were drawn to him by his personal magnetism. Moreover, he possessed so much native eloquence, and such an ability to make passionate appeals, as made him a fit person to fire the hearts of these men to deeds of violence,

I obtained a claim to 160 acres of land, twelve miles from Atchison, and on the banks of the Stranger Creek. This claim I would be at liberty to buy, at government price, if I should continue to live on it until it should come into market. My nearest neighbor was Caleb May, a Disciple, and a squatter, from the other side of the river. Bro. May was in his way as much a character as Bob Kelly. He gloried, like John Randolph, of Roanoke, in being descended from. Pocahontas, and that he therefore had Indian blood in his veins. Born and reared on the frontier, tall, muscular, and raw-boned, an utter stranger to fear, a dead shot with pistol or rifle, cool and self-possessed in danger, he had become known far and near as a desperate and dangerous man when meddled with. But he had been converted, and had become a member of the Christian Church, and according to the light that was in him he did his best to conform his life to the maxims of the New Testament, and conscientiously sought to confine all exhibition of "physical force" to such occasions as those in which he might be compelled to defend himself. Then it was not likely to be a healthy business for his antagonist.

After securing my claim, and commencing to build a cabin, I began to look around me. Fully three-fourths of the squatters of this whole region were from the border counties of Missouri. But in Western Missouri the percentage of Disciples was perhaps larger than in any other portion of the United States, consequently I had brethren on every side of me. These men certainly were not refined and educated men, as the phrase goes, still they had the qualities that our Lord found in the fisherman of Galilee.

One thought was in every man's heart, and on every man's tongue. The name _Squatter Sovereign,_ that had been given to the Atchison newspaper, indicated the trend of public opinion. They had been flattered with the idea that if they would come to Kansas they should be "Squatter Sovereigns," that the domestic institutions of the infant Territory should be determined not by the nation, nor by Congress, but by themselves. And yet, when the election day came, every election precinct in the Territory, except one, was taken possession of by bodies of men from Missouri, and the elections had been carried, not by _bona side_ citizens, but by an outside invasion. With pain and shame, and bitter resentment, my neighbors told me how they had driven their wagons to the place of voting, on the prairie, and hitched their horses to their wagons, and were quietly going about their business, when with a great whoop and hurrah, which frightened their horses and made them break loose from their wagons, a company of men came in sight, and with swagger and bluster, took possession of the polls, and proceeded to do the voting. Meantime whisky flowed like water, and the men, far gone in liquor, turned the place into a bedlam. In utter humiliation and disgust many of the squatters went home. Caleb May did not get into the neighborhood till afternoon. Before he got to the place of voting, he met Joseph Potter, and on hearing what was done he threw his hat on the ground, and in a towering rage protested he would no longer vote with a party that would treat the people of the Territory in such a way as that. This was done in March, but so far as any public expression of sentiment was concerned, the people seemed dumb. No public meeting was called in the way of protest till the next September, and that meeting was held at Big Springs, sixty miles from Atchison.

But if there was no public protest, there was plenty of it in private. The men from the State of Missouri grew sick at heart. It was a deep, unspoken, bitter and shame-faced feeling, for it was their old neighbors that had done this.

I often asked myself, Can it be hoped that an election can be held that shall fairly express the real sentiment of the people, if they allow themselves to be held down under such a reign of terror?

The prevalent sentiment of the squatters from Missouri was, "We will make Kansas a free white State; we will admit no negroes into it." These men regarded the negro as an enemy to themselves. They said: "We were born to the lowly lot of toil, and the negro has made labor a disgrace. Neither ourselves nor our children have had opportunity for education, and the negro is the cause of it. Moreover, an aristocracy at the South has assumed control of public affairs, and the negro is the cause of that. Now we propose to make Kansas a free white State, and shut out the negro, who has been the cause of all our calamities."

There was, however, a class of men among them that had pity for the negro. I will repeat one story, as it was told me by Bro. Silas Kirkham. Bro. Kirkham belongs to that family of Kirkhams so well known to our brethren in Southeastern Iowa. Bro. Kirkham was raised in a slave State. He said: "When I was a boy I had never thought of slavery as being wrong. There was a black boy in the settlement named Jim. Jim was so good-natured, faithful and well-behaved that we all liked him. Jim married a black girl and they had twins--boys--bright, likely little fellows, and Jim's wife and twin babies were all the treasure he had in the world."

Bro. Kirkham said: "One day I found Jim in the woods, where he had been sent to split rails. He was sitting down with his face buried in his hands, apparently asleep. I thought I would crawl slyly up to him, and spring suddenly on him, and frighten him. I did so, but Jim was not asleep at all, but lifted up his head with such a look of unutterable woe that I was frightened myself, and said: 'Why, Jim, what is the matter?' Jim cried out: 'O, my boys! my boys! Massa sold my boys!'"

Bro. Kirkham said: "_I_ have vowed everlasting enmity to an institution that will legalize such treatment of a human being."

But while these ominous mutterings were heard in so many of the Kansas squatter cabins, little did the high and mighty Atchison Town Company, or the editorial staff of the _Squatter Sovereign_, or the puissant Territorial Legislature, reck that so soon they must take up the sad refrain of Cardinal Woolsey:

    Farewell, a long farewell, to all my greatness! This is the state of man: To-day he puts forth The tender leaves of hope, to-morrow blossoms, And bears his blushing honors thick upon him; The third day comes a frost, a killing frost, And--when he thinks, good easy man, full surely His greatness is a-ripening--nips his root; And then he falls, as I do.

The following extract, from an editorial that appeared at this time in the _Squatter Sovereign_, will show what a rose-colored view these gentlemen took of the situation:

SLAVERY IN KANSAS.

We receive letters, by nearly every mail, asking our opinion as regards the security of slave property in Kansas Territory. We can truly say that no Territory in Uncle Sam's dominion can be found where the slave' can be made more secure, or his work command a higher price. Our slave population is gradually increasing by the arrival of emigrants and settlers from the slave States, who, having an eye to making a fortune, have wisely concluded to secure a farm in Kansas, and stock it well with valuable slaves. Situated as Missouri is, being surrounded by free States, we would advise the removal of negroes from the frontier counties to Kansas, where they will be comparatively safe. Abolitionists too well know the character of the Kansas squatter to attempt to carry out the nefarious schemes of the underground railroad companies.

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